Two weeks ago Saturday after a great lunch at Cafe Brasil (see Pt. 1) we lolled around enjoying the view overlooking the downtown beach area and bay then went for a stroll up and down Pacific Ave. Popped into Soif Wine Bar shortly after their opening at 3pm for the Obscure Italian Reds tasting. Seven wines at $1 per taste, a deal I just couldn't pass up, being basically clueless about what Italy has to offer other than Sangiovese, Primitivo, Barbera, and aware of all the hype about (but unable to afford) the super Tuscans. One was an 01 Primitivo from Manduria, another a 01 Primitivo/Sangiovese blend from Puglia . The other five were varietals I'd never heard of: Lacrima di Morro d'Alba (from Marches), Nero d'Avola/Sangiovese (Sicilia), Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria), Cesanese del Piglio (Piglio) and Aglianico del Vulture (Basilicata).
The price range was from around $12 to $20 (Cesanese del Piglio $48) but a 20% discount was offered on the day of the tasting (standard practice at Soif?). I thought the 01 blend Donna di Rango from Puglia (12.80 w/discount) stood well on its own and paired best with several of the cheeses. Ended up buying a bottle of Dr. Unger 02 Gruner Veltliner (@$20). I have the list of the Italian vintages, vintners, and prices if anyone is interested.
The Artisan Cheese Plate (regular menu item?) consisted of the following:
Le Vignelait - creamy raw cow's milk (France), we both thought excellent
Saint Maure de Touraine - soft ripe goat's milk (France) - changed our mind about not liking goat cheese
Petite Agour - sheep's milk (Basque) - IIRC we likened this to a good white cheddar
La Chevita - aged hard goat's milk (Spain) - back to thinking we really don't like goat cheese
La Memee - Bleu de Laqueuille sheep's milk (France) - not sure I got enough to review, Lady PB is not a wine drinker and I was a little late getting around to this one (must have been good).
All in all, a really nice experience, total bill $19 before tax and tip, will definitely keep informed on the tasting offerings when in the area.
We arrived at Oswald for our 6:30 reservation and were seated immediately. Place was packed, a fairly small dining area with a few tables upstairs in a loft looking down on the main room. Pleasant enough atmosphere even though a little cramped. We had the worst table, a two top between the entry and the stairs to the loft, the wine racks are built into the wall of the stairs so there was constant traffic from staff retrieving bottles and serving the patrons above. The entry is cramped so I ended up being brushed a couple of times when a new group was waiting to be seated.
My wife started with the caulifower soup, decent enough but noted that she thought she could do better (a correct observation). I had the bowl of mussels in a sherry wine sauce with parsley foam, there were only about twelve or so small mussels (two of which didn't open) but the wine sauce was tasty and different. I had a glass of a local Pinot Noir that went well with the mussels, forgot to note the name, but it's the only one offered BTG. Our entrees were the Sea Bass with wild mushrooms and Meyer lemon relish, and the Day Boat Scallops on a potato round with Jerusalem artichokes. We had considered ordering the Wild Mushroom bruchetta a special appetizer for the evening, described by our waitress as composed of about five different mushrooms. It sounded so good which led my wife to order the sea bass. The fish was slightly over cooked (not enough to ruin it) and a very small portion. She was kind enough to share a very thin slice of mushroom sticking out from underneath but was soon sorry she did, it turned out to be the only fungi present. The lemon relish was very good but so minute with little contrast in color from the fish that she ended up getting it all in one bite of the fish. My scallops were seared perfectly and sweet tasting, I'd followed the waitress' rec for a glass of a French Sauvignon Blanc (only BTG available IIRC) which provided a nice contrast to the scallops. Again, small portion, there were only four of what we call "Digby" size, maybe slightly larger than a half-dollar, a quarter inch thick small slice of potato was the base, covered with a sauce that was supposedly of Jerusalem artichokes. There was so little I wasn't able to pick out any discernible flavor and the only texture turned out to be what seemed to be kind of stringy/bristly plant material that you'd find and remove on a regular artichoke.
One other observation that others may care about more than I was the plating of the dishes. In this case small portions of white/whitish entrees/sauces presented in the center of an oversized white plate, no drizzle of sauce, oil, no sprig of greenery, nada.
Wines BTG were @ $10-12 IIRC, total bill for one soup, mussels app, two entrees and two glasses of wine came to about $90 before tax and tip. All in all rather disappointing since we (or rather I) had been really looking forward to finally be able to try the place. Perhaps if we'd ordered differently it would have been better? Probably won't return unless suggestions from hounds we've learned to trust are forthcoming.
Our trust in the local hounds was confirmed by our visit to Marianne's afterward, you guys nailed it this place is great! My chocoholic gal got two types of chocolate in a cup drizzed with more chocolate and caramel, so rich she questioned at one point if she could even finish it (she did). I went with a scoop of lychee and another of mango in a waffle cone, absolutely delicious, refreshing fruit flavors. Made the mistake of trying my wife's concoction about half way through, so sweet and rich it masked the remainder of my mango, lesson learned.
Earlier that day we'd stopped into Shopper's Corner, another great find. Purchased some Humboldt Fog and other cheeses, another Gruner Veltliner and a bottle of Lemoncello. My search for Encore (blend of five white varietals) wasn't successful, but the owner of K Liquor was most helpful and actually called a competitor trying to help me locate some.
Our friends that we'd lunched with had gone to Shadowbrook the night before (on the recommendation of a local they'd met) and were very disappointed with their meals. Too bad we hadn't been in contact earlier or could have warned them. They were staying in Seascape and went across the street to Palapas where they found the enchiladas to be some of the best they've tried. Just wondering what the consensus is on the place, in years past we always loved to stop here just for an appetizer of shrimp in a spicy broth, can't recall the name but would love to know if they still serve it. They also mentioned that Bella Roma in Capitola was highly recommended, I found an online article from Coast Weekly that gave it a good write up, any thoughts on this place?
Finally, walking around downtown after dinner we saw a couple of places that looked interesting. Clouds appeared to have kind of a creative menu and Reds upstairs in the Old Santa Cruz Hotel had a couple of items listed that caught our attention (some kind of lobster roll, IIRC). Any feedback here greatly appreciated.
Truly enjoyed our relaxing weekend and look forward to returning soon. Thanks again to all.
Dave in Fresno